Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thongchai aims to charm Cobra again

Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee (pic) will chase a record-equalling third Maybank Malaysian Open title on his favourite course, the Saujana Golf and Country Club starting on Thursday (12-02-2009).

The two-time Asian Tour number one has won two of the last three Malaysian Opens at Saujana's challenging Palm course, dubbed the Cobra, where his impressive record even caught the attention of the tournament's top draw, world number 11 Anthony Kim of the United States.

Such is Thongchai's confidence that he joked with his caddie that he didn't need a course yardage book ahead of the opening round where he will play alongside Kim and Damien McGrane of Ireland.

"I'm feeling very good. I always like to play at Saujana. I've won twice here and I always like to come back to this golf course," said Thongchai, who is looking to emulate Australian Terry Gale's three victories achieved during the 1980s.

"At the last two Malaysian Opens, I missed the cut as I was sick and injured. But I'm well prepared for this week. I took last week off and I'm ready to go."

Thongchai endured a tough start to last season but ended the year on high by winning back-to-back titles on the Asian Tour to equal compatriot Thaworn Wiratchant's record of holding the most wins in the region with 10 titles.

"I joked with my caddie and told him I didn't need a yardage book. I know every hole on this golf course very well. The only thing that may change are the grains on the greens.

"I'm happy with the way I've started the year. I'm feeling confident. If I don't play well, I'm still capable of shooting under par," said the former paratrooper, who finished tied 13th in the Abu Dhabi Championship last month.

Kim, who featured in the victorious US Ryder Cup team last year, is strongly tipped to contend in his maiden visit to the US$2 million Maybank Malaysian Open, which is sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

While the talented 23-year-old Kim, a two-time winner on the US PGA Tour last year, has attracted plenty of attention in Saujana, he knew very well of Thongchai's track record at Saujana.

"I don't know if I am the man to beat - I just heard that Thongchai has won this event a few times and there are definitely a lot of guys who have a lot of game and I have to set my game up to play at the that level," said Kim.

Japan's number one Shingo Katayama, nicknamed 'Kat in the Hat' for his penchant for cowboy hats, is another man capable of challenging for Malaysia's 48th national championship.

Coincidently, the 26-time Japan Tour winner's lucky colour is yellow, the same as this week's title sponsor. "I always wear yellow when I win. It's my lucky colour," said the slightly-built Japanese, noting Maybank's colours.

"I would like to play a lot more on the Asian Tour. I would like to win outside of Japan and I like it in Asia. The courses that I've played here are very similar to those in Japan. I love Asia and I would like to visit more Asian countries," added the world number 39.

Local hopes will also rest on Malaysia's Danny Chia, who held the joint halfway lead at last year's Open held at a different venue before he faded at the weekend. No Malaysian has won the tournament in the event's history.

"Just like all the other Malaysian golfers, winning the Malaysian Open is a dream of ours. I still get nervous competing in our national Open. I was among the top players last year (after two rounds) and it came as a surprise more than anything else. But this year, I will keep calm, stay focused and strive to do my best. I feel that I am ready this year," said Chia.

The big-hitting Malaysian has a new Callaway FTIQ driver in his bag but he will be using his trusted three-wood much more to negotiate the palm tree-lined Saujana course in his hope for glory.

"I always thought that my game is not suited for Saujana. That is why I won't be playing my usual game unlike on other courses where I would be smashing it down the fairway. I'll be using a lot of three wood out here," said Chia.

Other top contenders at the Maybank Malaysian Open, the second leg of this season's Asian Tour Schedule, include 2007 champion Peter Hedblom of Sweden, England's Simon Dyson and Nick Dougherty, South African James Kamte, winner of last week's Asian Tour International in Bangkok, Chinese Taipei's Lin Wen-tang, Singapore's Lam Chih Bing and China's number one Liang Wen-chong.